With well over a decade under its belt, movie audiences have come to rely on the X-Men series for regular adventures, a rotating cast, and after X-Men: Days of Future Past, the assurance that even death can’t keep fan-favorite heroes out of the fighter. But when the superteam’s new villain was revealed, fans knew that X- Men: Apocalypse would be sending the mutants up against the biggest, baddest enemy they had ever encountered.

As the marketing rollout for Apocalypse has gotten underway, the scale of the threat has been a major talking point. But as unforgettable as the blue-skinned, armored Apocalypse known as En Sabah Nur – or ‘The First Mutant’ – may be, his origin story and mission don’t just threaten the mutants or humans of the X-Men universe, but the themes and narratives of the entire movie series.

We had an opportunity to speak with director Bryan Singer on the set of Apocalypse in July, getting some hints about the villain’s possible alien connection, what made Oscar Isaac the perfect actor for the role, and the indiscriminate order that he’s seeking to bring to mankind and mutants everywhere.

Apocalypse’s Mission

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Until now, the X-Men series has been based (more or less) on a single conflict: mankind’s fear, paranoia, and eventual dominance of mutants. It was a fairly universal allegory for stories of outsiders, segregation and hate the world over – but a nuanced, unpredictable narrative it wasn’t. With Apocalypse, Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg are throwing that idea out the window.

Where X-Men: Days of Future Past saw mutants exposed to the world, threatening and saving President Nixon, it seemed that the ten year jump to Apocalypse would result in more of the same. But that all changes when Apocalypse arrives on the scene, with little interest in the difference between mutant and human – only the strong over the weak, and order over chaos. Singer explains:

“He believes with his heart that order is the only thing that’s going to save humanity, and he will provide that order at any cost…  and for a person who begins as a unifier and then grows in power – What’s the old expression about power? Power does what? And what does absolute power do? Things just never go right, so that civilization goes down and he starts a fresh one.

“In this movie, something happens, he thinks he’s figured it out finally. ‘Oops,’ didnt really go well, he gets kind of buried and then wakes up, now he’s in a different situation than he’s ever been before… The Babylonians, the Sumerians, the ancient civilizations, and suddenly he wakes up in 1983. Now the world’s connected with television and radio. We see it as different civilizations, we see it as “super powers” as he says it, then the non-superpowers, the first world, second world, third, whatever. But to him it’s all just one giant interconnected, overly militarized, screwed up civilization that worships false idols and is self destructive, and needs to be refined and saved from itself.”

Hearing Apocalypse described by the director, it’s clear that he’s as complicated or conflicted a character as any of the mutants. He’s resolved in his beliefs, sure: as an ancient immortal being, he has seen enough to completely justify his desire for order above all else (to himself, at least). And for powerful beings seeking to rule a civilization through order, there’s no nightmare like the 1980s.

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It will have to be left up to individual fans to decide how ‘fair’ the survival of the strongest really is, since it could also be said that Apocalypse doesn’t really play favorites. It’s the strong he seeks, as it was in the comics, recruiting his Horsemen to descend the world into war. Those who survive are the ones who deserved to, becoming the building blocks of an even resolved society.

Where he crosses from an aggressive, ruthless tyrant to a figure of religious worship will hopefully be explored in the movie, but if we had to guess, it’s his ability to reshape the world that wins followers to his cause. And even if we don’t know just how much of a role he played in ancient history, Singer promises that his return will be, in a word: Biblical:

“The way I describe him the best is he, to me, is the God of the Old Testament and all that comes with that. If there isn’t the order and the worship then I’ll open up the Earth and swallow you whole, and that was the God of the Old Testament. I started from there and when Oscar and I met we began discussing, since he isn’t really God, he’s the first mutant perhaps, but he’s not God necessarily. He’s imbued with certain unique powers. Some of them may or may not be from this Earth, we don’t know.”

Apocalypse’s Powers

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Now that we’ve learned just how closely the origin of this take on Storm will stick to the comic books, one might think the same would be true for Apocalypse. As the post-credits scene of Days of Future Past showed, Apocalypse would still rise to power (along with his Four Horsemen) in the days of ancient Egypt, and be blessed with the telekinesis needed to assemble an entire pyramid. After that, his powers get a bit more… comic book-ish. In short, he can do just about anything a comic book reader could think of.

For the X-Men movie universe, some restrictions need to be applied. While that might sound disappointing to fans, Singer reveals a new origin for the villain – and an explanation for his immortality – that will have fans more curious than upset:

“He moves from body to body. Apocalypse himself is not a physical form, he’s an energy. I don’t know what he is. What he does is he accumulates powers over the millenia by moving from body to body, and what’s wonderful is he thinks in the beginning of the film he’s found this great body. I don’t want to give away what the power of the body this mutant has but it’s a familiar one that you’ve seen a number of very famous mutants have. It kind of ends up being the wrong one because he gets stuck in it for a long time, but then suddenly he has this opportunity and that becomes his agenda.

“He has a number of different powers that he’s acquired over the years as he’s moved from body to body, accumulating these various abilities. One of them is to imbue other mutants and to heighten their powers and abilities beyond anything they ever imagined. Secondly he can shield from psychic powers, he can form shields so that it makes it harder for a psychic like Xavier to tap in and get to them. He’s not a psychic himself though. He can amplify your power, transform you as a mutant but his ability to physically damage, destroy, or build is in the non-biological world. That’s in the physical world, he can change the inorganic molecules of things.

The one restriction should be immediately obvious, since the comics saw Apocalypse able to reshape his own body, size, and density at will (making him a tough villain to actually beat). The same thinking is likely behind the decision to remove telepathy from his power suite, granting him the power to manipulate others to his cause, but not sense when they may be straying from the path – a pivotal point if Magneto, Storm, Angel or Psylocke are ever going to return to the side of our heroes.

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Singer went on to tease more powers being explored, since the possibly infinite number of former hosts could offer plenty of tricks up his sleeve – and the question of where Apocalypse’s true origin lies, as a being of energy, isn’t going to be answered before the movie hits theaters. The core mystery seems to be the one body Apocalypse attempted to occupy, when a mutant ability he craved turned out to be more than he bargained for, and presumably saw him disappear for centuries.

If he’s been able to actually plot or plan that entire time, then the X-Men looking to stand against him will be in for a massive fight.

The Right Man For The Job

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So, how do you find the right person to bring to life a mutant who is as old as time, perfectly equipped to manipulate minions, draw followers willingly to his cause, and attempt to rule the world with an iron fist? Apparently, it wasn’t a difficult question, since Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina) was their top pick:

“He was our first choice. When we started talking about Apocalypse, it was back when we were making Days of Future Past and we started talking about who could actually play the part from the standpoint of who could hold the screen and even dominate the screen with Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, all the actors we have.”

That’s a task that Isaac is more than up for, having earned critical acclaim in half a dozen movies in recent years. Ex MachinaInside Llewyn DavisShow Me a Hero, and A Most Violent Year may be targeted at a different audience than an X-Men adventure, but given what’s been said about Apocalypse, there’s enough character work to put Isaac’s skills to work. That’s assuming that Singer hopes to make him as nuanced and believable a villain as Magneto before him.

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But talent wasn’t the only reason Isacc was a perfect choice. In a world where superhero franchises are regularly criticized for giving little representation to minority actors (or characters), Singer and his team made the decision to cast a non-Caucasian actor if they could. Their criteria wasn’t as explicit as Apocalypse’s presumed ethnicity – Egyptian? Arab? A blue-skinned alien mutant? – but it did play a role in their search:

“In terms of his ethnicity, we wanted it to be someone who wasn’t white so that was actually another part of the decision process, so that was a nice coincidence for us even though he’s not, as you say, Egyptian or Middle Eastern. But really it came from a place of who’s the best actor in the world to us who hasn’t already been in an X-Men movie [laughs] or some other superhero movie, because we couldn’t cast somebody from Avengers.”

For more quotes and reveals from our X-Men: Apocalypse set visit, check out the links below:

What do you make of these new details? Are you interested to see what the real story of Apocalypse’s powers are revealed to be? Or do you wish the version of the character from the comic books had been faithfully adapted? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned for more from our set visit.

Deadpool opens in theaters February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016; Gambit sometime in 2017; Wolverine 3 on March 3, 2017; and an unannounced X-Men film on July 13, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.